US House passes Keystone XL bill despite White House's veto threat

The US House approved Rep. Lee Terry’s (R-Neb.) bill to bypass the White House and congressionally authorize construction of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline’s northern segment by 241 to 175 votes on May 22. But the bill, HR 3, would be vetoed if it ever reached the president’s desk, the White House said in a May 21 Statement of Administration Policy.

It said the bill conflicts with the executive branch’s approval authority, is unnecessary because the US Department of State is already reviewing the proposed project’s cross-border permit application, and prevents full consideration of complex security, safety, environmental, and other issues.

Terry and other HR 3 supporters have said that Congress’s approval of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System’s construction in 1974 established a precedent for this bill. TransCanada Corp., the project’s sponsor, has had its application under federal review for 1,700 days, several of HR 3’s backers said on May 22.

“If the president were just to sign off on the Keystone XL pipeline today, he would create thousands of jobs immediately,” Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said. “Instead, he has delayed it for 5 years. That’s why the House is voting on this bill today.”

Several Democrats said the debate and vote were a waste of time. “The very decision to sign this bill would be with the very president who’s already considering the project’s application,” Rep. Jared Polis (Colo.) maintained.

Other Democrats who supported previous Keystone XL bills in the House said they opposed this one because it would excuse TransCanada from many permit requirements.

‘Deeply disturbing’

“The fact that we would deem a foreign company permitted is deeply disturbing,” said Nick J. Rahall (W.Va.). “It waives US permits for a major undertaking while US companies like Exxon and Valero still have to obtain permits for their operations in Canada.”

Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), the Energy and Commerce Committee’s ranking minority member, reiterated the main reason for opposing the project. “It would lock Americans into decades of dependence on dirty Canadian crude at a time when we’ve finally begun to reverse our carbon and greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Republicans said HR 3 was absolutely necessary. “This bill leads where the president has wavered, and finally approves the Keystone XL pipeline,” said Daniel A. Webster (Fla.). The measure’s prospects in the Senate are uncertain, where Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) is unlikely to take it up.

Oil and gas industry associations applauded the measure’s passage. “The Keystone XL pipeline project continues to receive broad support from the public, in March in the Senate and now again in the House of Representatives,” said Andrew J. Black, president of the Association of Oil Pipelines.

American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard said, “The ongoing Keystone XL delay has sent a signal to all Americans that jobs and energy security are not a priority to some in government. However, we have bipartisan leadership on Capitol Hill; we just need leadership from the president to help our fellow citizens get back to work.”

Environmental organizations said the debate revealed the project’s many flaws and the vote basically meant nothing. “At the end of the day, the buck still stops with President Obama,” declared Franz Matzner, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s associate director of government affairs.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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